Richard Trollinger’s philanthropy research wins Grenzebach Award
June 20, 2013 By Mariel Smith
education proposes a bold new way to manage endowments.
"Centre is distinctive in its commitment to financial aid in relation
to the size of its endowment," Trollinger says. "Over 90 percent of
students receive some form of financial aid, and we're committed
to providing the aid required to make it possible for bright and
aspiring students who want to attend Centre to be here."
As the vice president of college relations, Richard Trollinger's work goes on largely behind the scenes. This week, however, his work is front and center because it has earned him the John Grenzebach Award for Outstanding Research in Philanthropy for Educational Advancement.
Dr. Richard Trollinger and co-author Dr. John R. Thelin of the University of Kentucky have completed some groundbreaking research in the area of philanthropy in higher education.
Their paper, "Forever is a Long Time: Reconsidering Universities' Perpetual Endowment Policies in the Twenty-First Century," appeared in History of Intellectual Culture.
Conventional wisdom about managing endowments, whether they are foundation or college endowments, stipulates that institutions only spend the earnings an endowment produces each year, allowing the endowment itself to exist perpetually. Trollinger and Thelin's paper advocates that in some instances, it may be appropriate to do something entirely different: instituting life spans or time limits that drive spending and intentionally expend an entire endowment.
"Many donors, especially those creating foundations, start endowments as a way of solving a specific problem," Trollinger says. "Oftentimes, a traditional endowment spending rate of five percent isn't going to necessarily solve that problem."
Such accelerated endowment spending is often stigmatized as focusing too much on the needs of today without giving due consideration to the needs of tomorrow.
Trollinger counters this argument with a few simple and arresting questions: "What if we took all the money from the 80,000 charitable foundations across the country and committed to spending it in the next 10 years?" he asks. "How would we transform our society? What could we achieve?"
The answer for Trollinger and Thelin was that intensive spending now can be a more effective way of actually solving problems rather than steadily chipping away at them as traditional endowment spending does.
"It's really a question of what a donor wants to achieve," says Trollinger. "If he or she wants to memorialize a loved one, a perpetual endowment makes perfect sense. If a donor wants to actively make a radical difference in solving a problem he or she is passionate about, a time-sensitive endowment may be more effective."
For Trollinger, this research is extremely relevant in a time when endowments are under increasing pressure to combat the rising costs of higher education.
"Centre is distinctive in its commitment to financial aid in relation to the size of its endowment," he explains. "Over 90 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, and we're committed to providing the aid required to make it possible for bright and aspiring students who want to attend Centre to be here."
Trollinger's research on more purposive and intentional use of endowments will certainly be part of the process that keeps Centre among some of the most generous institutions in the country in terms of financial aid.
Awards and recognition aside, Trollinger's research is ultimately driven by his lifelong passion for philanthropy in higher education.
"I have been doing this for almost 40 years," he says. "What gets me out of bed every day is the fact that I know there are young people out there who—like myself at one time—are in need of an opportunity like Centre. People who, if just given the chance, will do remarkable things with that opportunity."
The Grenzebach awards program is co-sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Giving USA Foundation. Awards are given in honor of the late John Grenzebach, a leader in educational philanthropy who had a strong interest in promoting scholarship in that area. Each award carries international recognition to the recipients.
Dr. Trollinger is a lifelong scholar, earning a Bachelor's degree from Emory and Henry College, a Masters of Arts from Indiana University, a Masters of Education from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D in higher education policy studies from University of Kentucky.
To read Trollinger and Thelin's award-winning research paper, click here.
Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.